Intellectual Property and Biotechnology

Life science patenting has a surprisingly long history, going as far back as Pasteur.

However, new scientific and technological fields like synthetic biology, systems biology and nanotechnology present challenges for patent law and policy considered to be unprecedented.

Arguably, the relationship between patent law, business and the life sciences has been more of a co-evolutionary one marked by gradual change than one characterised by sudden revolutions and giant leaps.

To give one example, DNA patenting is assumed to raise new challenges on the grounds that DNA has both informational and physical characters. Yet, hormones, which are chemical messengers, have been patentable for over a century. But this is all very debatable - and of course fascinating for that very reason.

Four questions arise:

  1. Has such co-evolution generally been rational, evidence-based and in the interests of the public?
  2. In the case of 'discontinuities' that have taken place, were they necessary to maintain the system's integrity? Or do they represent radical shifts away from the public-private balance that intellectual property law and policy are supposedly meant to preserve?
  3. Can developing countries capitalise on being, at least in theory, able to regulate from scratch and engage in 'technological leapfrogging'? Or are they doomed to permanent technological dependencies and dysfunctional regulation?
  4. Can theories of international governance contribute to optimal regulation that fosters social welfare-enhancing innovation in the North and the South?

This research is inherently, and of necessity, interdisciplinary. Collaboration with others is actively sought including through the IPBio Network.

Publications and outputs

Dutfield, G. (2009) Intellectual Property Rights and the Life Science Industries: Past, Present and Future (2nd ed.), World Scientific.